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Maxima targets Toyota
Nissan’s revamped large car heads mainstream against the Camry, Aurion and Accord
21 Apr 2009
NISSAN will straddle the medium and large-car segments with the J32-series Maxima sedan launched in Australia this week ahead of its June 1 showroom debut.
Priced from $33,990 and now built in Thailand, the seventh-generation Maxima retains the basic exterior dimensions of its Japanese-made J31-series predecessor, but introduces a smaller, 2.5-litre VQ25DE V6 base model – known as the 250 ST-L – to take on four-cylinder rivals such as the Honda Accord VTi, Toyota Camry and Mazda6 sedans.
Nissan has had no medium-class contender in Australia since the demise of the unsuccessful U13 Bluebird in December 1997.
The new Maxima pricing represents a $1000 drop compared to the previous entry-level ST-L, despite an increase in standard specification, but power and torque levels fall with the capacity cut in the 250 ST-L.
Meanwhile, the lauded 3.5-litre V6 engine carries over - albeit in much modified VQ35DE form - in the mid-range 350 ST-S ($37,990) and luxury 350 Ti ($46,990) model variants, meaning that the cheapest Maxima that matches its predecessor’s performance abilities now actually costs $3000 more than before.
Nissan counteracts this by arguing that – along with a redesigned body and completely restyled interior featuring higher-quality trim – the J32 Maxima’s front-wheel-drive platform is much improved over the J31 model’s FF-L architecture.
Shared with the Z51 Murano mid-sized SUV as well as a host of other larger models available elsewhere, Nissan’s ‘D’ platform architecture introduces a new MacPherson strut front suspension with shock absorbers featuring in-built rebound springs for flatter cornering abilities, and a multi-link rear end with shock absorbers positioned closer to the tyres for stability gains.
Nissan claims Japanese engineers accumulated data in Australia before altering the Maxima’s suspension tune to local tastes. Models benchmarked for ride and handling qualities include the Toyota Aurion.
The new Maxima is claimed to have a 40 per cent increase in torsional stiffness compared to its predecessor, while front lateral stiffness increases 85 per cent. Body rigidity improves as well, Nissan says, due to the adoption of an X-shaped cowl top structure.
The extensive use of weight-saving high-grade ultra-high-tensile steel (980MPa class) and multiple load path construction for greater absorption and dispersion of impact energy also contribute to a stronger Maxima than before, which in aids noise, vibration and harshness levels. More sound-deadening material also helps here, but the engineers have managed to contain weight increases to between 46kg and 83kg.
Nissan is predicting that the 250 ST-L base model will account for about 40 per cent of the 2400 or so J32 Maximas sold in Australia in the first 12 months.
Its 2.5-litre all-aluminium DOHC 24-valve petrol V6 with Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control System (CVTCS) is part of Nissan’s famed VQ family of engines, but has never been offered in Australia in this small-capacity configuration.
Running on regular unleaded petrol, the 2.5 produces 134kW of power at 6000rpm and 228Nm of torque at 4400rpm. It returns 9.5L/100km on the ADR 81/01 cycle, which, Nissan emphasises, is 0.4L/100km better than the Camry’s 117kW/218Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine.
The 350 ST-S and 350 Ti models use the revised 3.5-litre VQ35DE V6 delivering 185kW at 6000rpm and 326Nm at 4400rpm. These figures represent a 15kW rise in power but a 7Nm fall in torque.
The official combined fuel consumption figure is 10.2L/100km, which is a 0.6L/100km improvement, but 0.2L and 0.3L/100km worse than the Accord V6 and Aurion respectively.
Nissan says 80 per cent of both V6’s torque outputs occur at 1600rpm, while a different mounting system reduces vibration.
Driving the front wheels is a revised version of the previous car’s continuously variable transmission dubbed X-Tronic, using new software and other changes for improved shift response and quality. It also features a six-speed sequential-shift manual mode.
Other mechanical changes include new speed-variable hydraulically powered rack-and-pinion steering, while the brakes include four-wheel discs (ventilated up front) supported by electronic stability and traction control. ABS brakes with EBD and brake assist are also fitted standard.
Other standard features across the range include dual front, and dual front-side airbags, and full-length curtain airbags.
Nissan believes that its goal of doubling the appeal of the Maxima with its twin-strategy positioning is underscored by higher-than-expected equipment levels.
Even the 250 ST-L arrives in Australia fitted with leather upholstery, Xenon headlights with auto-on function, automatic climate-control air-conditioning, LED tail-lights, powered folding exterior mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels with a full-sized alloy spare, front foglights, an eight-way powered driver’s seat and a four-way powered passenger seat, a six-stacker CD/MP3/AUX audio, push-button engine start, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
“We are making four-cylinder large-car customers an offer they can’t afford to ignore in the Maxima ST-L,” said Nissan Australia CEO Dan Thompson.
The Maxima 350 ST-S gains the larger V6, rear parking sensors, a keyless entry system, heated front seats, rear spoiler and illuminated vanity mirrors, while the top-line 350 Ti includes a sunroof, a memory function for the driver’s seat, an 11-speaker Bose audio system, a colour screen, DVD player, satellite-navigation, reversing camera, and Bluetooth audio and steering wheel controls.
Towing capacity with both engines is rated at 1200kg with brakes and 750kg without.
Besides some suspension work, Nissan Australia persuaded the Thai factory to provide unique-for-our-market seat trim, alloy wheel design, rear spoiler and sundry other trim items.
Since its December 2003 launch, the outgoing J31 edition has sold the most units, with over 12,000 vehicles finding homes in Australia. However, sales plummeted as petrol rises soared, with the model’s average volume settling down to about 150 units per month.
Mr Thompson said that the Thai factory could easily increase production to exceed the 250 Maximas a month that Nissan expects to sell.
The Maxima began life as the mainly US market six-cylinder version of the 1977-1981 Datsun 200B, gaining a longer bonnet and slightly different sheetmetal as it evolved with the Bluebird series in the 1980s.
Australians had to wait until the Maxima became a separate model in its own right, with the third-generation J30 series in 1990. It replaced the Australian-assembled R31 Skyline.
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